Paul Gilbert’s latest offering, Alligator Farm could have easily been titled, The Many Faces of Paul Gilbert because of the varied styles he chooses to explore here. Although I have never been a huge fan of the guy, Gilbert is a remarkably skilled guitarist and as a former member of the now defunct power pop group Mr. Big, he was responsible for penning one of that band’s most impressive compositions in “Green Tinted Sixties Mind”.
Since the mid ‘80s, Gilbert’s reputation in the music community was that of a lightening fast, fretboard shred god, particularly during his tenure with the speed-rock act, Racer X. The formation of Mr. Big in 1988 with bassist Billy Sheehan evidenced Gilbert branching out into more commercialized musical terrain with songs like “Lucky This Time” and the acoustic gem, “To Be With You”. But Alligator Farm finds Gilbert spreading his wings like never before.
Moving effortlessly from the post-punk urgency of tunes like “Better Chords” and the Goldfinger-esque, “Cut, Cut, Cut” to acoustic numbers like “Koto Girl” and the humorous “Lancelot Link”, Gilbert proves that he is quite at home at any style he wishes to pursue. But what is most evident on Alligator Farm is Gilbert’s ability to compose melodic radio-friendly songs—brilliant numbers like “2 Become 1” and “Rosalinda Told Me” that showcase his strength as a compelling, convincing vocalist, not to mention the warm, wonderfully layered harmonies. But don’t think for one moment that Gilbert has abandoned his bread-and-butter guitar fire—he hasn’t. Most every tune on the record boasts some classic Paul Gilbert licks; enough to satisfy his diehard fans that were expecting nothing less. The instrumental “Let the Computer Decide” is a fast and furious exercise in dexterous staccato riffs and sweep-picking heroics, as is the nine and a half minute epic “The Ballad of the Last Lions.” Also worthy of mention are deep cuts like the jazzy “Six Billion People”, the boogie-woogie infused “Alligator Farm” and the driving pop/rock piece “Individually Twisted”.
Alligator Farm is a surprisingly great record from beginning to end. It’s energetic, creative and has just enough of his guitar flash past to satisfy fans, while winning new converts with music that takes a gigantic leap forward.
// Notes from the Road
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